WEEK 3: No. 21 Utah Utes (2-0, 0-0 Pac-12) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (1-1, 0-0 MWC)
WHEN: Saturday, September 19 -- 7:30 PM PST
WHERE: Bulldog Stadium; Fresno, CA (41,031)
STADIUM THEME: BLACKOUT
TV: CBS Sports Network
RADIO: ESPN Radio (940 AM); ESPN Desportes (1600 AM) in Spanish.
SERIES RECORD: 6-4, Utah leads; 3-0, Fresno leads in Fresno, CA; Utah 59, Fresno 27 - 9/6/14 (Last Meeting)
For the second time in as many weeks the Fresno State Bulldogs get to test their abilities against an elite Top 25 team from a Power Five conference. Though last week's gridiron affair did not turn on in favor of the Bulldogs in Oxford, Mississippi, this week they get to face their opponent in the comforts of Bulldog Stadium.
However, Utah, at 2-0 with wins over state rival Utah State (24-14) and Big Ten power, Michigan (24-17) does not appear to be a much easier opponent than Ole Miss was last week.
It appears that Travis Wilson, Utah's starting quarterback, may be unable to play after injuring his left shoulder against Utah State. However, Fresno State fans shouldn't take too much solace in Wilson being on the bench. Back-up quarterback and this week's likely starter for the Utes, Kendal Thompson, totaled two touchdowns, no turnovers, 87 yards passing and 71 yards rushing against the Bulldogs in last season's 59-27 loss in Salt Lake.
The key for the Bulldogs this week is to continue to improve as they push through to conference play. It's been another difficult non-conference schedule for Fresno State, but it's an opportunity to test themselves against some of the best teams in college football.
Nobody wants to be on the losing end of a 73-21 shellacking, so hopefully these young Bulldogs have a short memory from last week, have learned from their mistakes and are ready to come out fast and physical to set the tone at home vs. the Utes.
What to watch - Utah: In 2010, Grant Union High School and Sacramento native, Devontae Booker, was a verbal commitment to Fresno State. That obviously didn't work out and apparently Booker, Utah's Heisman Trophy candidate running back, is still holding a grudge.
Through two games this season Booker has 259 total yards and 2 TDs. In Salt Lake last season Booker had 112 total yard against the Bulldogs. With Wilson being out expect Booker to be the focal point of the Utes offense with plenty of motivation finally playing in the stadium where he initially believed he would be spending his college career.
On defense, Utah is currently allowing less than 100 yards rushing per game with a 96.5 average. Granted that is only a two game sample, but it still ranks 26th nationally. Senior linebacker Gionni Paul has led the Utes defense so far this season with 21 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception and one recovered fumble. Local product and senior linebacker, Jared Norris, from Centennial High School in Bakersfield has also made a name for himself on the Utes defense with 18 tackles this season.
What to watch - Fresno State: Would it be a "What to watch" section in year 2 AD (After Derek) without a mention of the quarterbacks? Despite the brutal loss in Oxford last week there was a lot to be encouraged about (for those who stuck around to watch the full game) in relation to the quarterback position, mainly and pointedly with Chason Virgil. Though the Fresno State coaches have not named a starter against Utah (or going forward) yet, all signs seem to be pointing in Virgil's direction.
Though he may still be a slight freshman at a listed 184 pounds, for everyone who has seen him play the last two weeks, and especially last week against Ole Miss, Virgil has that "it" factor. Whether it's the quick release, his poise in the pocket or ability to make decisions quickly, Virgil has looked like a quarterback beyond his years or experience level.
Zack Greenlee, who has started the first two games of the season will need to play the best football of his career to continue to maintain his position atop the quarterback depth chart. Hopefully, this competition that the coaches are always preaching can lead to an unexpected win against a Top 25 team.
Fresno State's secondary received a first hand look at a the nephew of an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback (Jim Kelly) last week and it looked as if Chad Kelly was a chip off the old block. Even when the Bulldogs had excellent coverage, Kelly put the ball where only his teammates could make the play.
There were what looked to be several blown assignments in coverage that will need to be corrected if Fresno State hopes to keep a lid on the big plays. Utah is certainly more of a running team, but if the Bulldogs can't contain Booker or Thompson, the Bulldogs may be forced to drop a safety into the box, which could in turn leave the secondary vulnerable for deep plays down field.
Marteze Waller; he's one of the best running backs in the nation, a senior and will be facing one of college football's top rush defenses. Regardless of which way this battle goes, Waller and the Fresno State offensive line couldn't ask for a better or tougher test. If the Bulldogs are able to open holes for him and control the line of scrimmage, good things could happen for Fresno State.
It could also be a long night again for the Bulldogs, but with 68 freshman and sophomore players on the roster it should still be another fun evening for the diehard Fresno State fans to watch the young players develop, improve and hopefully shine against a stout opponent.